Using Scratching Tools for Your Eczema: 7 Things To Consider | MyEczemaTeam

Connect with others who understand.

sign up Log in
Resources
About MyEczemaTeam
Powered By

Using Scratching Tools for Your Eczema: 7 Things To Consider

Medically reviewed by Kevin Berman, M.D., Ph.D.
Posted on May 9, 2023

If you have eczema, you might have been told to stop scratching your itchy skin — advice that can seem impossible to follow. Instead, some people with this skin condition use new types of devices called scratching tools specifically designed to soothe itchiness without breaking their skin. These tools provide relief by applying pressure on, rubbing, or cooling the itchy, scaly, dry patches of skin that characterize eczema.

Some scratchers are designed as roller balls that massage skin, and others have bumps or ridges for scratching without damaging skin. A third type is made of soft silicone and rubs against your skin. These newly developed tools are not yet sold in the United States — products billed as treatments for medical conditions typically require U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval to be available for sale. However, some sellers outside the U.S. offer international shipping.

Medically known as pruritus, itchy skin is very common among people with eczema. Researchers estimate that pruritus affects between 80 percent and 100 percent of people with atopic dermatitis, the most common type of eczema. Much research is currently focused on finding out what causes itch.

Unfortunately, giving in to the urge to scratch can backfire. In the itch-scratch cycle, extreme itchiness makes you scratch, which makes your eczema worse, resulting in more itchiness and more scratching, and so on. Many members of MyEczemaTeam are familiar with this uncomfortable cycle. “Uncontrollably itchy today! Made myself bleed,” shared one member of MyEczemaTeam.

Scratching your skin with your fingernails is especially dangerous because it can easily injure the skin, causing bleeding and exposure to bacteria, leading to secondary infection. But what about scratching tools? Many members of MyEczemaTeam wonder if scratchers offer a good solution, while others already use do-it-yourself (DIY) scratching tools — for example, a comb, pen, pumice stone, back scratcher, or even a fork.

If you’re thinking about using a scratching tool for your eczema, keep reading to learn several important points regarding these devices.

1. Not All Scratching Tools Are Safe

Just because a scratching tool is marketed as safe doesn’t guarantee that it won’t cause harm, especially if you have sensitive skin. Currently, no commercially available scratching tools have been recommended or endorsed by leading eczema societies. Be sure to get your dermatologist’s advice regarding the safety of a scratching tool you’d like to try.

Appropriateness for Children

Some of the commercially available scratching tools have been marketed as safe for children. However, without the FDA’s evaluation and approval, a device can’t be assumed to be safe to help relieve itchiness caused by your child’s eczema. Be sure to speak with their doctor before giving your child a scratching tool.

DIY Versions

Some members of MyEczemaTeam reach for DIY scratching tools to help relieve their itch. “I’ve tried everything. ... I found that a pumice stone is best for scratching,” shared one member. “I actually use a fork on my back,” another said. “Tried everything else, and this is the only thing that works.”

Although these solutions can provide temporary relief, it’s best to avoid them. DIY scratchers:

  • Are not designed specifically for eczema
  • Can break your skin and cause infections
  • May be hard to keep clean
  • May cause your skin to become thicker

Be sure to tell your health care provider if you’re using a DIY scratching tool. They can let you know if there are better ways to control your itching.

2. Effectiveness May Be Iffy

The effectiveness of scratching tools is highly individual — what calms one person’s itchiness might have no effect for someone else. In addition, even “safe” scratching can worsen your itch by creating a scratching habit. It may be best to avoid scratching altogether — but that’s not always easy. Let your dermatologist know if you need more help with managing itchiness. Many recently approved medications for eczema address itch reduction.

3. Keeping Your Scratcher Clean Is Key

If you decide to use a scratching tool, it’s essential to keep it clean. Dirty scratchers can damage your skin and expose it to bacteria, causing skin infections.

Be sure to thoroughly clean and dry your scratcher before and after each use. Inspect the tool frequently for signs of damage. Never use a scratching tool that is broken or has signs of damage, such as a scraped surface. Carefully follow cleaning instructions from the manufacturer or your dermatologist. Use a gentle, fragrance-free cleanser, because harsh cleaners can cause contact dermatitis and worsen eczema.

4. You Can Use Moisturizers With Scratching Tools

Many people use moisturizers — creams, gels, ointments, emollients, or lotions — for eczema symptom relief. Some find it helpful to put the moisturizer in the refrigerator to give it a cooling effect on the skin to reduce itch. Some commercially available scratchers, such as roller balls, can help spread your moisturizer on the affected area of your skin. Be sure to clean your tool thoroughly afterward to remove any moisturizer residue.

5. Other Home Remedies May Also Ease Itching

In addition to using scratchers, members of MyEczemaTeam have tried other home remedies to help decrease the itching that comes with eczema flare-ups. Alternative treatments include:

  • Coconut oil
  • Oatmeal or bleach baths
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Epsom salts
  • Essential oils
  • Vitamins and supplements

Some of these methods are considered safe and recommended by doctors. For example, the National Eczema Association recommends oatmeal baths to help with itching.

On the other hand, research on many other home remedies is lacking. Be sure to ask your health care professional which home remedies are safe and effective for you or your loved ones.

6. Flare-Ups May Require Medications, Not Scratchers

For many people, over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription eczema treatments work well enough so they don’t have a need for scratching tools. These mainstays of eczema treatment can also be used with scratchers.

OTC treatments for eczema include:

  • Topical steroids (applied to the skin)
  • Oral antihistamines (taken by mouth)
  • Pain relievers
  • Medicated shampoos, moisturizers, and soaps

Severe eczema often requires prescription treatments, such as the following:

  • Steroids, such as hydrocortisone
  • Janus kinase inhibitors
  • Calcineurin inhibitors
  • Phosphodiesterase 4 inhibitors
  • Immunosuppressants, such as methotrexate
  • Biologics
  • Phototherapy

7. Your Doctor Is Your Best Source on Scratchers

Eczema flare-ups can be hard to manage, and it may be tempting to grab anything available to help scratch the itch. Scratching tools that don’t break the skin may be safer than some DIY solutions, but these devices aren’t FDA approved. Your health care provider can best advise you on whether a scratcher has a place in the eczema treatment plan for you or your child, as well as give you pointers on how to use scratching tools safely and effectively.

Talk to Others Who Understand

MyEczemaTeam is the social network for people with eczema and their loved ones. On MyEczemaTeam, more than 47,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with eczema.

Have you or a loved one used a scratching tool to help with eczema itch? Did it offer any relief? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

    Posted on May 9, 2023
    All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.

    Become a Subscriber

    Get the latest articles about eczema sent to your inbox.

    Kevin Berman, M.D., Ph.D. is a dermatologist at the Atlanta Center for Dermatologic Disease, Atlanta, GA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here
    Olga Askinazi, Ph.D. is a biomedical scientist, clinical educator, and health writer. Learn more about her here

    Recent Articles

    Every eczema flare is unique, and no two people have the same experience. Eczema flare-ups can va...

    How Long Does an Eczema Flare-Up Last? Treatment, Prevention, and More

    Every eczema flare is unique, and no two people have the same experience. Eczema flare-ups can va...
    One thing I won’t be doing again: scratching my back (as we all do — admit it) on the ancient, ja...

    Distracted by Eczema: How Itching Affects My Focus

    One thing I won’t be doing again: scratching my back (as we all do — admit it) on the ancient, ja...
    Welcome to MyEczemaTeam — the place to connect with others living with eczema. This video will w...

    Getting Started on MyEczemaTeam (VIDEO)

    Welcome to MyEczemaTeam — the place to connect with others living with eczema. This video will w...
    For those of us living with eczema and planning a cruise — especially their first, like I just di...

    3 Tips for Traveling With Eczema

    For those of us living with eczema and planning a cruise — especially their first, like I just di...
    If you, like me, are living with eczema, you might assume that worsening symptoms mean you need t...

    How I Plan My Vacations When Traveling With Eczema

    If you, like me, are living with eczema, you might assume that worsening symptoms mean you need t...
    Your skin care routine may play a bigger role in triggering your eczema than you think.

    Best Soap for Eczema: Ingredients To Look For and To Avoid

    Your skin care routine may play a bigger role in triggering your eczema than you think.
    MyEczemaTeam My eczema Team

    Thank you for subscribing!

    Become a member to get even more:

    sign up for free

    close